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The Robert Gordon University

The Robert Gordon University
Motto Omni Nunc Arte Magistra
Motto in English Now by all your mastered arts
Established 1992 (origins mid-18th century)
Type Public
Chancellor Sir Ian Wood
Principal Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski
Academic staff 643[1]
Admin. staff 841[1]
Students 15,753[2]
Undergraduates 9,663
Postgraduates 6,064
Location Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom
Campus Suburban (main campus) and Urban (Administration Building and Student Union in city centre)
Colours Template:Legend striped
Historic Colours:
Royal Blue, Red and Gold
Logo of The Robert Gordon University

The Robert Gordon University, commonly referred to as RGU, is a public university in the city of Aberdeen, Scotland. It became a university in 1992, and originated from an educational institution founded in the 18th century by Robert Gordon, a prosperous Aberdeen merchant, and various institutions which provided adult education and technical education in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is one of two universities in the city (the other is the much older University of Aberdeen).

According to the 2013 Times Good University Guide it is the best modern university in the UK,[3] while according to The Guardian University Guide 2013 it is the best modern university in Scotland and 2nd-best in the UK.[4] It was shortlisted for Sunday Times University of the Year 2012 and was named Best Modern University in the UK for 2012 by The Sunday Times University Guide.[5] Of those who graduated from full-time undergraduate degrees in 2011 and 2012, over 97% were in employment or further study within six months - the most of any university in the UK.[6][7]

The university, which brands itself “the professional university”, awards degrees in a wide range of disciplines from BA/BSc to PhD, primarily in (but not limited to) professional, technical and artistic disciplines and those most applicable to business and industry. A number of traditional academic degree programmes are also offered, such as in the social sciences. Disciplines available include the social sciences, life sciences, engineering, computing science, pharmacy, nursing, allied health professions, social work, law, accountancy, business administration, management, journalism, fine art, applied arts and design, and architecture. In addition, the university's academic and research staff produce world-class research in a number of areas.[8] The university also provides services to business and industry including consultancy and professional development.

RGU has a single campus in Aberdeen, at Garthdee, in the south-west of the city amid parkland by the banks of the River Dee. The university also operates an Administration Building and Student Union in Aberdeen city centre, at Schoolhill. Until Summer 2013 a second campus was also located here and at St. Andrew Street nearby, but this campus has now closed apart from the Administration Building, which is to be retained. Academic departments located there have moved to new buildings at the main Garthdee campus.


The university derives from Robert Gordon's Hospital, an institution set up in the mid-18th century to provide the poor with a basic education and reasonable start in life, and the various educational institutions which developed in Aberdeen to provide adults with technical, vocational and artistic training, mostly in the evenings and part-time. Following numerous mergers between these establishments, it became Robert Gordon's Technical College in 1910, then following further developments became Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology in 1965 and began to conduct increasing amounts of research and provide degree-level education (by now mostly offering day classes to full-time students). Finally, it became a university in 1992. Unlike some modern universities in the UK which were created following the government reforms of 1992, it has never been a polytechnic (these were never part of the Scottish education system).

Founding Institutions

Robert Gordon was a Scottish merchant, who had grown up in Aberdeen and graduated from Marischal College. Following a successful career, mostly in Danzig where he amassed a fortune, he retired to Aberdeen around 1720. In the last decade of his life, he prepared plans for a Hospital similar to that founded in Edinburgh by George Heriot. The purpose of Robert Gordon’s Hospital was “the Maintenance, Aliment, Entertainment and Education of young boys whose parents are poor and indigent… and to put them to Trades and Employment”. Gordon died in 1731, and left his entire fortune to the project. However, it took nearly two decades for buildings to be completed, with the first boys admitted in 1750. The aim was not a sophisticated education, but to provide the poor with a reasonable start in life. Boys were taken in between 8 and 11 years old and received food, accommodation and a basic education including English, Latin, writing and arithmetic. They left the Hospital between 14 and 16 years old as an apprentice in a trade or to a merchant. The Hospital expanded through the 18th and 19th centuries.[9]

Meanwhile, in the early 19th century, the Industrial Revolution led to a greater need for scientific and technical education for working-class adults, with “Mechanic’s Institutes” spreading through Scotland, patterned on that founded by George Birkbeck at Glasgow (he would later found Birkbeck College, the University of London’s night school). The Aberdeen Mechanic’s Institution opened in 1824 providing evening classes in subjects such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, book-keeping, maritime navigation and art. By 1855 it was receiving government funding as the School of Science and Art, with a Technical School founded two years later.[9]

Child and adult education combined: Robert Gordon’s College (1881)

Government education reforms in the 1870s saw the “Hospital” system fall out of favour and encouraged mergers with other educational establishments. As part of these reforms, the Aberdeen Mechanic’s Institute and Technical School merged with Robert Gordon’s Hospital in 1881. The resulting institution was known as Robert Gordon’s College. It provided an education for boys but as a day school only, and evening (and later day) classes for adults (male and female) in science, technology, commerce and general subjects. Art classes offered by the Mechanic’s Institution were transferred to a new, independent School of Art close by, paid for by local businessman John Gray and opened in 1885.[9]

Splitting child from adult: Robert Gordon’s Technical College (1910 on)

By the end of the 19th century, Robert Gordon’s College was a major provider of technical education, receiving large government grants. Following further reforms, in 1903 the adult education part of the College was designated a Central Institution along with Gray’s School of Art (which became a Central Institution two years earlier), allowing the adult education activities to develop independently rather than under the control of the local School Board. However, even this was not sufficient to meet demand for technical education, and dedicated Technical Colleges were being set up in other Scottish cities. As a result, in 1910 adult education activities were split from the school and became Robert Gordon's Technical College. Also merged into the new Technical College was the city’s School of Domestic Economy which provided classes in domestic science. The day school for boys continued as Robert Gordon's College, and the two institutions shared a campus, buildings and until 1981, a Board of Governors and administrative staff.

During the 1920s, the first Ordinary and Higher Certificates and Diplomas were awarded, and by the 1930s Robert Gordon’s Technical College was made up of Schools of Engineering, Chemistry, Maths & Physics, Pharmacy, Art (including architecture), Domestic Science, and Navigation. Around this time the first students began to be prepared for external degree examinations – for the University of Aberdeen’s BSc in Engineering. A system of student governance also developed, with a Student Representative Council formed in 1931. In the closing years of World War II, candidates started to be prepared to sit exams for external degrees of the University of London, in subjects such as Chemistry and Engineering, but only via part-time and/or evening classes. After 1945, to aid with settling large numbers of returning soldiers into a career, the Government backed a Business Training Scheme which allowed the Technical College to introduce courses in Business Administration.[9]

Technical College to Institute (1965) to University (1992)

In 1955, the Technical College received a large gift of land. Local property developer and entrepreneur Tom Scott Sutherland purchased the Victorian manor and estate of Garthdee House in 1953, located by the banks of the River Dee on the outskirts of the city. Finding himself and his wife living out of only four rooms in the enormous mansion, he donated it and the estate in 1955 for a new school of architecture. These classes had taken place at Gray's School of Art, but had been expanding in the 1940s and 50s and much more space was needed. Following completion of a modern extension to the house, the new Scott Sutherland School of Architecture opened in 1957. In 1966, Gray’s School of Art also moved to a large new building on this estate, freeing its Schoolhill building for administrative use. By 2013, all activities had transferred to Garthdee, with the addition of land immediately adjacent purchased from Aberdeen City Council in the 1990s.

The 1963 Robbins Report on the future of UK higher education recommended major expansion, which led to the renaming of the institution to Robert Gordon’s Institute of Technology to suggest its increasing role in higher education rather than further education. As well as new “plate-glass” universities, reforms following the report created the polytechnics in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also created the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) to allow non-university institutions (like the polytechnics and Scottish central institutions) to run programmes that graduated students with CNAA degrees. The Institute’s first CNAA degree programmes began in pharmacy in 1967, then in engineering, chemistry and physics in 1969, and expanded at undergraduate and postgraduate level to all disciplines. Around this time, the government also began to transfer non-degree teaching (e.g. certificate courses in navigation) to local-authority colleges.

During the 1960s, an academic committee structure was set up, headed from 1969 by an Academic Council. During the 1970s, these committees underwent expansion and reform to improve participation by academic staff in decision-making. For the first time, a faculty structure was introduced, with Faculties of Art & Architecture, Engineering, Arts, and Sciences, led by deans. A department dedicated to providing computer services to the Institute was also established in 1974, and the first professorships were introduced in 1975. In 1981, the separation of the Board of Governors and administration staff from Robert Gordon’s College was completed, although the school and Institute continued to share some buildings. Beginning in the 1970s, the Institute also began to provide extensive consultancy and training for the North Sea oil industry, particularly in engineering and offshore safety and survival.[9]

The Robert Gordon University (1992 to present)

Following the reforms of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, the Institute was awarded university status as The Robert Gordon University on 12 June 1992.[10] The new university inherited numerous small campuses, and during the late 1990s and 2000s embarked on large building projects (primarily at Garthdee) to consolidate teaching at its City Centre and Garthdee campuses, assisted by a large purchase of land from Aberdeen City Council in the mid-1990s. During this time student numbers also expanded considerably. A merger with the University of Aberdeen was discussed in 2002, but was rejected in favour of remaining separate but collaborating more closely. From around 2000 until 2013 the university operated two campuses, at Garthdee (now the main campus) and at Schoolhill and St. Andrew Street in Aberdeen city centre. However, it had been planned since the early 1990s to eventually move all facilities to a single campus at Garthdee, and during this time additional land was purchased there to enable new state-of-the-art academic buildings to be constructed. These opened in Summer 2013, after which the City-Centre campus closed apart from the Administration Building and Student Union on Schoolhill. RGU is now a single-campus university.

Recent Awards

In The Guardian University Guide 2013, RGU ranks 35th in the UK[4] (above the University of Aberdeen at 38th) and is the best modern university in Scotland and 2nd-best modern university in the UK (behind University of the Arts London). Of the 120 universities in the list, Coventry University is the next-best post-1992 university at 46th.

The Sunday Times awarded RGU the title of Best Modern University in the UK for 2012 in its University Guide 2012. The title had previously been won by Oxford Brookes University for each of the preceding ten years.[11] RGU received the 2012 award partly due to ratings of the quality of teaching and research, but also due to its employment record which was judged the best of any UK university. The citation read: "With just 3.8% of graduates unemployed six months after leaving, a degree from the Robert Gordon University (RGU) is as near to a guarantee of a job after graduation as you can get.....RGU's graduates don't just get jobs, they get good ones, with 84.9% securing jobs commensurate with their qualifications...with starting salaries at an impressive £20,897".[5] RGU was also named as Best Modern University in the UK in The Times Good University Guide 2013.[3] The university was also shortlisted for Sunday Times University of the Year 2012 (the only post-1992 university on the shortlist), but the title was awarded to the University of Bath.

In The Complete University Guide 2014, RGU is at 53rd place (out of 124), and is the highest-ranking post-1992 university in Scotland, and jointly the third-highest post-1992 university in the UK (with the University of Hertfordshire). The two UK post-1992 universities ranked higher were Oxford Brookes University and the University of Lincoln.[12]

Graduate Employment

For at least two years, the Robert Gordon University has had the highest rate among the UK universities of graduates in employment or postgraduate study six months after graduation. In July 2012, the Higher Education Statistics Agency released figures for graduate employment for those who graduated in 2011. Six months after graduation, 97.1% of RGU graduates from full-time undergraduate degree programmes were in employment or further study, the highest level of graduate employment of any UK university (although a small number of higher education institutions specialising in only one discipline, such as the Royal Academy of Music, Harper Adams University College and the Institute of Education, scored higher). Other universities scoring highly were the University of Northampton (95.6%), King's College London (95.2%) and the University of Glasgow (94.9%).[6]

This result was repeated in the statistics for 2012,[7] with 97.7% of RGU's 2012 graduates in work or further study within six months. As the previous year, only specialized institutions such as the Royal Academy of Music and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance had a higher percentage of graduate employment than the Robert Gordon University. Other universities scoring highly in 2012 were Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln (97.0%), the University of Buckingham (96.9%), Glasgow Caledonian University (96.2%) and the University of Derby (96.1%).

Symbols and Corporate Identity

The university's logo and corporate identity make frequent use of the colour purple and the "Gordon" font, all of which appear extensively on campus signage, printed material and online. The current logo was unveiled in February 2013. From 2009 to 2013, the logo consisted of a roundel derived from the university's coat of arms.

Most Universities in the UK are designated by order of the Privy Council; unusually for a university named after an individual, according to The Robert Gordon University (Scotland) Order of Council 1993[13] the official name of the university includes the prefix "The" (as with The George Washington University, The Ohio State University and The College of William & Mary). However, current university branding typically leaves it out (e.g. on website text and other official materials).

Coat of Arms

The coat of arms derives from the one issued by the Lord Lyon King of Arms (the state official responsible for heraldry in Scotland) to Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology in 1982, which in turn derives from that first used in 1881 by the governors of Robert Gordon's Hospital when it became Robert Gordon's College.[9] The arms consist of a shield only and are used infrequently, usually at formal occasions such as graduation, and can also be seen over the main entrance to the university's Administration Building at Schoolhill and various academic buildings at the main campus at Garthdee, such as the entrance to the Faculty of Health and Social Care building. The shield also formed the previous logo which still features on some older signage.

On the left side of the arms, the three boars on a blue background edged in gold are taken from the arms of the Gordon family, while on the right the castle on a red background is taken from the arms of the City of Aberdeen. This symbol of the city is shared with the arms of the University of Aberdeen. A black wavy band divides the two sides, and features heraldic symbols in gold representing technology (a mechanical cog), learning (a flaming torch) and commerce (a gold coin).[9]


The university's motto is Omni Nunc Arte Magistra, which translates literally from Latin as "Now by all your mastered arts...", as if to suggest making use in everyday life of knowledge and skills gained. It is sometimes translated as "Make the best of all your abilities", although this is a somewhat more liberal rendering of the Latin. It comes from Virgil's Aeneid, Book VIII, line 441, as the god Vulcan encourages his workers at the forge.[9] RGU shares this motto with Robert Gordon's College, who use it more frequently. Unlike some universities, the motto is not seen frequently at RGU, although it has appeared in graduation materials and is engraved on the shaft of the university's ceremonial mace.

Ceremonial Mace

A page on the university's website.


Like most Scottish universities, RGU has its own tartan; it mirrors the university's official colours of Royal Blue, Red and Gold which appear on the coat of arms (although purple is now used more frequently day-to-day). The tartan was designed by Michael King in 1997.[15] Some students on their graduation day choose to wear a tartan kilt.

Academic Dress

Academic dress at RGU is worn only at very formal occasions, primarily at graduation. Unlike some universities (e.g. the University of Aberdeen), all hoods are a combination of black and white (depending on level of degree awarded) and do not vary in colour by discipline. For all Bachelors degrees (e.g. BA, BSc, etc.) a black gown is worn, ending 12 inches (30 cm) from the ground, with a black hood partially lined with white silk (if graduating, the hood is only put on after the degree has been officially awarded) and a black mortarboard. For all Masters degrees except MPhil (e.g. MSc, MBA), a black gown is worn, ending 8 inches (20 cm) from the ground, with a black hood fully lined and edged in white silk, and a square backpiece edged in white, along with a black mortarboard. For MPhil, dress is the same but the gown also has facings of white silk 2.5 inches (6 cm) in width. For PhD, the Doctor's black robe (a black Panama gown) is worn; the Doctor's robe has front edges and sleeves in white silk, a pure white silk hood, and a black cloth bonnet with white cord and tassels.[16]


RGU currently operates a single campus in Aberdeen, in the south-western suburbs at Garthdee. While all academic departments are located at Garthdee, the university also has two buildings in the city-centre at Schoolhill - the Administration Building for administrative functions and the Student Union. The university does not have a graduation hall: Graduations take place in July and December, usually in Aberdeen city centre at the Music Hall on Union Street or His Majesty's Theatre on Rosemount Viaduct.

City Centre facilities

The university currently operates two non-academic facilities in the city-centre, next to each other on Schoolhill. Buildings at Schoolhill are situated next to the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Robert Gordon's College, a prestigious private school which is no longer affiliated to the university but shares a common heritage and motto. The Administration Building and Student Union are listed and architecturally significant buildings,[17] constructed in the Victorian period of carved and ornamented granite, typical of Aberdeen's famous Granite City architecture.

Also located here was the old City Centre campus. Many of these buildings were sold over the years to Robert Gordon's College for school use, while others are for sale or have been sold for redevelopment. The university plans to retain the historic Administration Building for the foreseeable future.[18]

The Administration Building has a frontage directly onto the public street of Schoolhill and was completed in 1885. It is a significantly larger building than the street frontage suggests. On completion, it housed Gray's School of Art and was designed by the prominent Aberdeen architect Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, who designed many of the city's grand granite buildings in the 19th century. The building is constructed of grey and pink Corrennie granite ashlar with Corinthian columns and was designed to match the Aberdeen Art Gallery adjacent to it,[19] and like these buildings, it is Category A listed by Historic Scotland. As the School of Art grew in size, the building was extended in 1896 and again between 1928 and 1931. However, it eventually became too small and when Gray's School of Art moved to a new modernist building at Garthdee in the 1960s (see above), the building was converted for administrative use.[20] From then until 2013 it housed the Principal's Office (which has since moved to the Garthdee campus). Today it provides offices for senior academic and administrative figures and their staff, central administrative functions such as student records, committee and meeting rooms, and other facilities.

The Student Union is located next to the Administration Building, on a corner site on the Schoolhill and opposite Belmont Street where many bars and nightclubs are located. It is Aberdeen's only Student Union and contains various bars, a café, and facilities for student meetings and other offices of the university's Students Association. In early 2013 the university announced that the Student Union would close when its building was sold, but it was given a reprieve in summer 2013 but for only 12 months.

Main campus (Garthdee)

The Garthdee campus is the university's main campus. All academic departments are located here and all teaching and research takes place at this campus. The campus is located in parkland on the outskirts of the city and noted for its modern architecture.

The Garthdee campus is situated in the south-west of the city, on the banks of the River Dee. For much of its history it was a greenfield site, with parts used as the gardens and estate of the manor of Garthdee House, farmland, and open meadows. The first university buildings were in use from the 1950s, with major additional developments in the 1960s, 1990s, 2000s and early 2010s. The design concept produced in the mid-1990s by architects Norman Foster + Partners was to separate the site into three zones; to the north, by the road, would be car parking; a central zone would contain the main buildings, and the southern boundary by the riverbank would be for parkland and wildlife. Ancient lines of beech trees and woodlands were retained in the concept. It also included a "university street" running east-west and connecting the buildings, which were to be "pavilions in the landscape".[21] These elements of the design concept have been more or less adhered to in subsequent developments by other architects.

Travel to Garthdee campus

A bus stop is located on campus at the main plaza, outside the Faculty of Health and Social Care and Riverside East buildings. The campus can be reached from the city centre by bus routes 1 and 2 (branded as the Red Line on the city's colour-coded routes) operated by First Aberdeen, which operate approximately every 15 minutes during the day during term-time. The journey time from Union Street is approximately 30 minutes in light traffic, but can take up to an hour if there is heavy traffic and many students are boarding. Both routes begin in the northern suburbs and call at King Street, the Castlegate (opposite the Town House/Sheriff Court), and Union Street (at the stop a little way along from the Trinity Shopping Centre and nearly opposite Belmont Street) before heading to RGU. Route 1 is the more direct to the university (via Holburn Street) and enters the campus to call at the campus bus stop outside the Faculty of Health and Social Care building. Route 2 is less direct (via suburbs) and calls at Garthdee Road for campus gates (but does not actually enter the campus), beginning at the western end of the road close to Gray's School of Art and heading east to return to the city centre. First-time visitors usually find Route 1 more convenient, although regular students and staff make use of both services to take advantage of greater bus frequency.

Previous uses of the site

Visible today are the signs of the campus's past as an area of agriculture, a wealthy estate, and industry. The campus today incorporates areas that were formerly in separate ownership. The western end of the campus, up to approximately the Business School building, was the estate of a Victorian manor called Garthdee House. The estate stretched along the river and was owned by a number of private owners until gifted by the architect Tom Scott Sutherland in 1954 (see below for more details about this building).[9] The house still stands (see below) and this area is characterised by a planned estate landscape.

The eastern part of the site has had a number of uses, and was owned by Aberdeen City Council until the university purchased it in stages beginning in 1996. Viewed from above, this part of the site is characterised by strips of land divided by lines of beech trees running north–south, with these lines of trees now broken in some areas by campus buildings or other development. These fields suggest that the land had been used for farming. By 1904, Ordnance Survey maps showed the eastern end of the present campus (approximately where the Medical Centre and Riverside East now stand) was mined as a gravel pit.[22] This was abandoned just a few decades later and the area was landscaped to create a caravan park. This included covering over the abandoned gravel pit and installing areas of hard standing, in addition to retaining areas of grass as well as part of the lines of beech trees that had not been felled for the gravel pit. Satellite imagery of the site from 2001 (available on Google Earth) shows the caravan park's areas of hard-standing and connecting roads, prior to construction of the Medical Centre (which opened in 2004), with the Faculty of Health and Social Care building mid-way through construction. The caravan park was operated by the City Council along with another at Hazlehead Park, but according to council planning documents, it had closed some 20 years prior to the university's purchase of the site and lay derelict until then.[23] Between the caravan park and the Victorian estate, the council used the land for allotments; a document proposing draft routes for the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, published in 1992 by Grampian Regional Council, describes how one possible route could have cut through the site of the present campus. It would have left the main road at the site of the caravan park, then crossed a field, and then traversed the "Garthdee Road allotments" which the report describes as "worked at present" - from there, the route would cut through the land of the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture which by then stood on the Victorian estate.[24] Minutes of the city's resources management committee show that the university began to purchase the council's holding of land from the edge of the Victorian estate to the abandoned caravan park site in parcels, with purchases in 1996 (for the Business School building), 2000 (for the Faculty of Health and Social Care building), 2002 (for the Medical Centre) and around 2007 for the remainder of the site (for construction of the Riverside East building).[25]

The campus today

The Garthdee campus has seen major investment in recent years, with numerous new buildings constructed since the late 1990s which include a "University Street", part of Norman Foster's design concept for the modern campus. Campus buildings are usually named after the faculty or department that they house.

The campus extends to 23 hectares, although some of this is currently landscaped parkland, undeveloped, or under construction. In addition, the university owns a further 8 hectares of land to the west (primarily woodland) and 22 hectares at Waterside Farm on the opposite bank of the River Dee;[26] this former farmland is currently undeveloped. According to the university's masterplan for the campus, the Waterside Farm site is at a low level and lies in a 1:200 year floodplain. In 1937, a newspaper report in the Glasgow Herald described how the three occupants of the farm (the farmer, a housekeeper and a cattleman) became marooned by rising water, which was flooding the site and farmhouse to a depth of three feet. A lifeboat was brought by road from Aberdeen Harbour, launched at Banchory-Devenick some way up the River Dee, and sailed down the river to the farm. The lifeboat crew rescued the trio from the rising floodwaters, plus a kitten and the farm dog. This could not have been the first such occurrence, because the farmer claimed to keep a small boat for when the farm was flooded, but it had been washed away by the torrent.[27] Perhaps as a result of this history of flooding, the Waterside Farm site has been identified as a location for university sports pitches at a future stage of development, to be connected to the main campus on the north bank by a pedestrian/cycle bridge across the river.[28] Urban explorers have investigated the abandoned farm buildings, and posted photographs showing them to be derelict.[29] The main campus is a significant height above the River Dee and is not susceptible to flooding.

The Riverside East building opened in late summer 2013, although the University Library it also houses had opened some months earlier. It is the largest building at the university (34,000 square metres) and houses all academic departments previously located at the City Centre campus. Riverside East is situated at the east end of the Garthdee campus, and designed by the major British architects Building Design Partnership (BDP).[30] Construction began in May 2011 and at a cost of £50 million,[31] with a second phase to follow as part of a larger planned development known by the university as "The Masterplan". Riverside East provides classrooms, lecture theatres and other teaching facilities, research laboratories, student facilities, social space, and catering facilities to replace those previously at the City Centre. Offices and staff of the Schools of Engineering, Computing Science & Digital Media, and Pharmacy & Life Sciences are based here. In addition, the University Library is located here in the green Learning Tower. The development includes a public plaza paved in granite, as well as ornamental lawns. The building comprises two halves of five floors (north and south), separated by a vast curving atrium which runs the full length of the building and includes a grand staircase. The north section comprises Levels 2 to 6, while the south section faces the river and as a result is set slightly lower, at Levels 1 to 5. The main entrance from the campus plaza is on Level 3, while a large refectory and riverside terrace is on Level 2. In addition, a cylindrical tower clad in green glass provides an additional three levels above the main building for the University Library, for a total of nine floors. The entrance to the library is on Level 5. Within the atrium at other (eastern) end, a four-storey "Teaching Drum" provides lecture theatres and multifunctional classrooms.[32] A second phase of development, to follow in later years, will extend each section further east to provide additional teaching and research facilities.

The Aberdeen Business School building was designed by renowned architects Norman Foster and Partners.[33] Construction took over a year at a cost of £19.5 million and the 12,500 square-metre building opened in 1998.[9] It was designed to allow numerous departments of the then-Faculty of Management to move from separate small campuses to one central site, along with a large library, and was originally known as the "Faculty of Management" building. Today the building houses the departments of Accounting & Finance, Communication & Media, Information Management, Law, and Management. It comprises a six-storey stepped box, partially set into the hillside, with each floor as a terrace following the topography of the site, enclosed by a dramatic curved aluminium roof supported by steel beams and columns, which was designed as a response to the rolling landscape and trees at the site. The building is clad in New Kemnay granite (the same as that used to build much of Aberdeen) alternating with infill panels of aluminium and glass. Inside, heavily used areas have protective dados of concrete blockwork to protect the walls, such as classrooms and corridors, while other materials include maple, glass, stainless steel handrails, and black slate for the atrium floor.[21] The entrances are on Level 3, leading directly onto a four-storey atrium which the "university street" passes through. The former library (now undergoing conversion) and other classrooms occupy the upper four storeys on the south side, and on the north side overlooking the atrium are staff offices. Teaching accommodation dominates the lowest two floors (much of which are underground), including three large lecture theatres of up to 300 seats as well as many other classrooms, IT labs and other facilities. Until May 2013 (when the new University Library opened in the Riverside East building) the university's main Georgina Scott Sutherland library was located here; the former library space is currently undergoing conversion to flexible student study space.There is also a canteen for students and staff, a branch of Subway, coffee shop and an ATM machine.

The Faculty of Health and Social Care building was designed by Aberdeen-based architects Halliday Fraser Munro and opened in 2002 at a cost of over £21 million.[9] It provides 13,500 square-metres of accommodation for the Schools of Applied Social Studies, Nursing & Midwifery, and Health Sciences. The building also acts as a hub for student services, with the university's student helpdesk, careers service, disability and dyslexia service, accommodation office and counselling service located in facilities off the main atrium. The building comprises seven storeys, six of which are currently in use with the smaller seventh (top) level left unoccupied as an equipment/plant space and in case future expansion is required. Like the Business School building, it takes the form of a stepped-box set partially into the hillside with a curved roof stretching to the ground, with the main entrance on Level 4 and a full-height atrium dominating the centre of the building. Raised "bridges" connecting the two sides of the atrium on each floor serve as staff recreation areas. Department and staff offices are on the east side of the building with classrooms on the west side, all with windows onto the atrium or campus parkland, while below ground are located teaching facilities for nursing and other health professions. These include a simulated hospital environment, as well as teaching and research facilities for radiography, occupational therapy, sport science and psychology. A cafe and large canteen are provided on the lowest level where the base of the building meets ground level on the sloping site.

The RGU:SPORT building is a campus sports and fitness centre, designed by architects Thomson Craig & Donald and opened in 2005 at a cost of £10.7 million,[34] including support from organisations such as sportscotland. It provides extensive facilities for sport, exercise and physical training, including several gyms with facilities for cardiovascular and resistance training, a 25 metre swimming pool, climbing wall, studios for group exercise classes, and a large sports hall for a wide range of indoor sports. The main sports hall is also used for examinations and university events such as the annual Fresher's Fayre. Other community events are also held here, and a cafe is provided. The centre is open to the general public and RGU students, staff and graduates receive a discount on use of the facilities. As well as sports and fitness facilities, provision is made for physiotherapy, consultancy and other services for use by athletes in training. At the main entrances to the building where the "university street" passes through on the lower level, a winter garden acts as an atrium and to line the "street". As well as providing a covered thoroughfare, the winter garden is also used for university events (such as careers fairs) and has a pool observation area.

The International College (ICRGU) building is a modular two-storey building situated at the rear of RGU:Sport. It was constructed in 2011 to provide additional teaching space for the "International College at RGU" (ICRGU). This is a partnership with Navitas, an Australian company which provides courses of study in its own colleges and arranges for students to continue their studies to degree level at various partner institutions in several English-speaking countries. RGU is one of these partner institutions and ICRGU operates as one of Navitas's colleges. Prospective students from around the world who do not have adequate academic grades for admission to mainstream degree programmes at the university can apply to begin their studies at ICRGU, in smaller classes than students in mainstream university classes. ICRGU teaches these students during their first year until they reach the required standard, then at 2nd year they enter mainstream classes at the university in order to continue their studies until they graduate (usually in degree programmes related to business). The temporary building housing ICRGU was constructed in 2011 and has teaching facilities for these 400 students along with the administration and staff offices for the programme; it is not used for mainstream university classes. The modular units from which it is constructed are finished in plastic-coated galvanised steel in a dark red colour. Parking is not provided for students using this building and Aberdeen City Council have given planning permission for it to stand for only five years. After this time, ICRGU will move into the Riverside East building.[35]

The Gray's School of Art building opened in 1966 to allow the art school to expand from its cramped yet beautiful Victorian building next to the Aberdeen Art Gallery in the city centre (now used as the university's Administration Building). The current building was designed by Michael Shewan and was influenced by the Illinois Institute of Technology campus (particularly the S. R. Crown Hall) designed by the celebrated American modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.[9] It is one of the 60 DoCoMoMo Key Scottish Monuments, a list of notable Scottish post-war buildings selected as significant examples of architectural style, building materials and location. It consists of a three-storey main block with single-storey wings to each side, which surround a quadrangle covered with grass and a small pond. The building is supported by an external steel skeleton which permits floor-to-ceiling windows for its numerous studios and workshops. These facilities include studios for painting and drawing, printmaking, photography, ceramics, jewellery, 3D design, as well as computer labs, life model changing rooms, two large open-plan sculpture studios, a canteen and art shop. A temporary extension encloses the southern side of the quadrangle, added in the 1990s to ease a shortage of space in the art school.[9]

The Scott Sutherland School of Architecture is housed in the original Victorian manor of Garthdee House plus a modern extension. Garthdee House was designed by William Smith with Jacobean detailing and constructed in 1872 of granite ashlar blocks typical of Aberdeen architecture of the time.[36] While he may not have been the first occupant, Alexander Edmond, an advocate (i.e. lawyer) from Aberdeen, lived there according to a book published in 1895.[37] By 1907, Alexander Gray, a "home & foreign produce broker & provision & grain merchant" (sic) lived there.[38] Garthdee House has a fine interior with an arcaded gallery in the entrance hall, and ornate cornices and plasterwork with Corinthian columns and pilasters. The architect and entrepreneur Tom Scott Sutherland purchased it in 1953 and for a short time lived there with his wife. But they found it too big and he donated it, along with its estate, to the Aberdeen School of Architecture in 1954.[9] The School of Architecture (then part of Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology) added a major new East Wing in modernist style in 1957 to house studios and large teaching rooms. Further extensions were made in 1969 and 1971 to provide new laboratories, lecture theatres, workshops, staff offices and other facilities required following the decision of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1958 that architecture training should be at degree-level, and to provide new courses in surveying and other areas of the built environment.[9] Garthdee House is also the location of the Principal's Office, since summer 2013.

Other modern buildings on campus (and older buildings that had once been part of the estate) provide for administration, healthcare, student support, a campus nursery for the children of staff and students, religious facilities and limited student accommodation. The campus includes extensive parkland, trees and meadows.


Academic Faculties

Academic activities at the university are divided into three faculties. Each faculty is led by a dean and is sub-divided into various Schools or Departments as follows. There are also numerous administrative departments which support the university's activities. All academic Schools and Departments are based at the main Garthdee campus.

  • Faculty of Health and Social Care (Dean: Professor Valerie Maehle[39])
    • School of Applied Social Studies (including the social sciences and social work)
    • School of Health Sciences
    • School of Nursing and Midwifery
    • School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences
  • Aberdeen Business School (Dean: Professor Rita Marcella[41])
    • Department of Accounting and Finance
    • Department of Communication and Media
    • Department of Information Management
    • Department of Law
    • Department of Management

Terms and Semesters

For undergraduate and taught postgraduate degree programmes, the Robert Gordon University operates an academic year with two semesters. The first semester runs from late September to the end of January, with 12 teaching weeks before the Christmas vacation, and a three-week examination period in January. The second semester runs from the start of February until June, with 12 teaching weeks broken by a one-week spring break in April, and then a three-week examination period. Undergraduate students have a long summer vacation, while Masters programmes usually use the summer for a supervised research project. Academic staff typically use the long summer break for research and research-related activity. As usual in the UK, PhD students at the university do not adhere to the semester system.

Governance and Leadership

Under the terms of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 and The Robert Gordon University (Scotland) Order of Council 1993, the university's governing body comprises a Board of Governors, consisting of 23 governors appointed to exercise the functions of management and control. The official head of the university is the Chancellor, although in practice he or she acts mainly in a ceremonial or symbolic role. At an operational level, most of the day-to-day management and control of the institution is delegated to the Principal and Vice Chancellor (commonly known simply as the Principal). The Board of Governors also delegates functions relating to the overall planning, co-ordination, development and supervision of academic affairs to the university’s Academic Council. Both the Board of Governors and the Academic Council are supported by a wide range of committees. The Principal's Office is based at Garthdee House on the main Garthdee campus but many other administrative departments and staff are based at the Administration Building at Schoolhill in the city centre.


  • Sir Bob Reid (1992–2005)
  • Sir Ian Wood CBE (2004–present)

At Scottish universities, the Principal of the university is its general chief executive and is the administrative head of the institution, second in precedence only to the Chancellor. This means that the day-to-day running and leadership of the university is the responsibility of the Principal.

Principal and Vice-Chancellors[42]

Academic Standards


RGU is a teaching-focused university (unlike the University of Aberdeen) but significant amounts of research are conducted by its academic and research staff. Much of this is applied research, but basic research is also conducted. The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) assesses the quality of research in UK universities, with the outcomes used to allocate research funding. In RAE 2008, over 70% of research at the Robert Gordon University was classified as being of international quality and 20% rated as internationally excellent or world leading.[8] According to this, the university has world class researchers in allied health professions, computer science, engineering, architecture, accounting and finance, business and management, library and information management, and art and design.

The university has three multidisciplinary research institutes which bring together and support researchers in certain themes. Academic staff can apply to join an institute once they have reached a level of seniority. The institutes provide a focus for delivery of research and knowledge transfer as well as for allocating funding. These are the Institute for Health & Welfare Research, the Institute for Innovation, Design & Sustainability Research and the Institute for Management, Governance and Society Research.[43] However, significant amounts of research also take place outside these institutes. Some of this is conducted by staff who are not part of any research institute or are too junior to join one, or by PhD students. Others conduct research which does not fit into the remit of any of the institutes.


UK rankings
2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995 1994 1993
Times Good University Guide 52nd 46th[44] 51st[45] 54th 55th 56th 58th= 58th 61st 59nd 61st 59th= 59th= 59th 58th 58th 62nd= 74th= 66th= 83rd=
Guardian University Guide 55th 35th 38th 27th 36th[46] 50th[46] 39th 58th 97th 70th 78th
Sunday Times University Guide 49th 49th 54th[47] 54th 62nd 65th[48] 68th 72nd 72nd 83rd= 101st 96th= 70th 64th 72nd
The Complete University Guide 53rd 52nd 51st 51st 47th[49] 61st[50] 55th[50]
The Daily Telegraph 55th[51][52] 89th=
FT 58th 57th 55th 55th

Students and Student Life

In 2010 there were 15,756 students studying over 145 full-time and part-time courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Of these, 9692 were undergraduates, 5788 were taught postgraduates (e.g. MSc) and 276 doctoral students on PhD programmes.[53] Over 1000 from all levels are international students, giving the campuses a cosmopolitan feel.

As well as full-time and part-time on-campus study, the University provides a range of distance learning facilities over the internet via its virtual learning environment, CampusMoodle. In 2010, approximately 31% of registered students were studying off-campus or required to attend campus only infrequently.[53] The majority of these study part-time (e.g. combining study with employment).[53] However, RGU does not specialise in distance learning in the same way as the Open University or the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Student Association and Union

As the forerunner of today's Student Association, a Student Representative Council was first organised at Robert Gordon's Technical College in 1931, with activities such as sports clubs and societies following in the 1940s. A Student Union building opening in 1952 at Rubislaw Terrace in the city's West End. In 1969, the shop and bakery next to Gray's School of Art (now the Administration Building) on the Schoolhill came on the market and were purchased by Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology; the current Student Union opened there in 1974.[9]

Today, the university's Student Association (as an organisation) is directed by an Executive Board, comprising student officers who are elected every March.[54] One purpose of the Student Association is to campaign for the interests of students at all levels of the university's governance, as well as other campaigns designed to achieve specific aims identified by the elected student officers. Campaigns in the 2011-12 academic year included "I Love My Lecturer", a program designed to recognise excellent teaching at the university,[55] as well as programs highlighting mental health needs among students and encouraging reduced usage of energy at halls of residence.[56] The Student Association also manages a range of services and promotes opportunities for RGU students, including managing the sports clubs and other societies which are affiliated with it. In 2011-12 there were over 40 student societies at RGU[57] and 32 student sports clubs.[58] The RGU Student Association is affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS) and as a result RGU students are eligible to apply for discount schemes operated by the NUS such as the NUS Extra card.

The Student Association currently operates a Student Union building at Schoolhill in the city centre. It contains various bars, a cafe which is open until 8pm on weekdays during term time, as well as various meeting rooms. There are also some minor facilities at the main Garthdee campus, including a shop and small games room.[59] As the University of Aberdeen no longer operates a dedicated Student Union building with a bar (other than a small Hall of Residence bar and a larger on-campus student centre that does not serve alcohol), the RGU:Union is the only Student Union serving alcohol in Aberdeen city-centre. However, students of the University of Aberdeen are able to make use of the RGU:Union as it is open to any student from any university on production of a valid university-issued ID card.[60]


The university's Accommodation Services department arranges for students to be placed in one of nine halls of residence across the city, with over 1500 beds available.[61] First-year students receive priority and to make sure all first-year students are housed, in some years applications are not accepted from students who are continuing into a second year of a degree programme. The Accommodation Services department also assists RGU students to find accommodation in the private sector (e.g. sharing a flat or house leased from a private landlord).

By far the largest of the halls of residence are the Woolmanhill Flats at St. Andrew Street, close to the university's former St. Andrew Street building which was in use when they were constructed. The Woolmanhill flats have over 700 one-person bedrooms, arranged in self-catering flats of up to eight. All have shared kitchen and lounge facilities, and 600 rooms have shared bathrooms while 136 rooms are ensuite.[62] The Woolmanhill Flats development was constructed in stages the late 1980s and early 1990s by the university working in collaboration with a private developer.[63] The newest hall of residence is the Crathie Student Village on Holburn Street, completed in September 2012 and housing approximately 100 students.

Other halls of residence include two buildings on the Garthdee Campus; the Square Tower and the Round Tower. These distinctive pink buildings were constructed in the early 1990s and inspired by traditional Scottish tower houses.[64] They have received architectural acclaim by critics and are included in Prospect magazine's list of the 100 best Scottish modern buildings. When the list was published in 2005, the Round and Square Towers were the only buildings in Aberdeen to be included. A number of other halls of residence across the city are used, some operated in-house by RGU and others by private companies. These include Rosemount Halls, St. Peter's Halls and Linksfield Halls which were constructed by the University of Aberdeen and then privatised in the early 2000s. Other more modern halls of residence are also used. RGU students also have access to the private halls of residence in Aberdeen which are operated on a commercial basis by specialist companies, such as those owned and operated by the Unite Group.


RGU:SPORT at the Garthdee campus provides a wide range of sport and fitness facilities to the university community as well as to the general public. Facilities include a 25m pool, various gyms with extensive facilities for cardiovascular training and resistance training (including free weights), a large sports hall (also used for exams), climbing wall, numerous fitness classes, physiotherapy, podiatry and sports massage.[65] Students, staff and graduates of the university receive a discount on use of these facilities.

There are 32 campus sports clubs affiliated with the RGU Student Association, and RGU competes in Scottish Universities Sport (SUS) and British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) competitions.[66] The university timetabling system usually keeps Wednesday afternoons free of classes to allow students to take part in sporting activities, although there are occasional exceptions. A number of elite athletes study at RGU. For example, swimmer Hannah Miley studied at RGU until 2013 and appeared regularly in publicity for the university.[67] A sport scholar program provides support for the athletic and academic careers of developing and elite athletes, including coaching, access to training facilities and financial assistance as well as flexibility in fitting training around the academic timetable.[68]

The Robert Gordon University Boat Club also contests the annual Aberdeen Universities Boat Race each Spring against the University of Aberdeen. RGU were victorious in 2012[69] and 2013,[70] although historically the University of Aberdeen has won more frequently.


International Partners

The Robert Gordon University has 2 partner schools in Switzerland:

  • Business and Hotel Management School - Switzerland (BA Degree is a joint program between BHMS Switzerland and the Robert Gordon University)
  • BVS Business School (Bachelor of Business Administration Degree is a joint program between BVS Switzerland and the Robert Gordon University)

Honorary Graduates

Donald Trump controversy

In 2010, RGU gained international attention for awarding an honorary degree to controversial American businessman Donald Trump. This featured in the 2012 documentary film You've Been Trumped[74] which documented the progress of the construction of Trump's golf course near Aberdeen from the point of view of local residents. In the film Dr David Kennedy, former Principal of the University, is shown handing back his own honorary degree in protest at the university's action in awarding the degree to Mr Trump.[75] At the time, Dr. Kennedy described the university's decision as 'an insult to decent people everywhere.'[76]


External links

  • Robert Gordon University website
  • RGU Student Association

Template:The Robert Gordon University Template:Universities in Scotland

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